The Orb Weavers’ Empire

The Norns

The Norns

Spiders are fascinating creatures. I have great respect for spiders; aside from the good work they do around here, they have an ancient history of lore and mystique surrounding them. In many cultures, the spider is a powerful totem embodying the forces of creation. In Norse mythology, the spider is associated with the Norns, the spinners of fate. The Old Norse word “norn” also refers generally to weavers and workers of magic.

Garden Orb-Weaver

Garden Orb Weaver

In summer, the eaves around my house are cloaked in spider webs. Some of them are small and humble; others are huge. They hang in layers, and when the sun shines on them they look like galaxies. The big webs are made by a common spider called an orb weaver. A lovely, poetic title.

These creepy critters have grown so big I’ve given them names. In the image below, on the left by the hummingbird feeder, that web is home to Mephistopheles. Next one down is Sauron and the one over the bugbane is Poe (you can kind of see him in the center). It tends to get my attention when one of them drops down to attend to some dastardly business or other.

Orbweavers

Spider Paradise: House eaves, morning sun and gardens beneath.

Balrog lives on the porch. He spins a spectacular web every day in the same spot, right where I need to go to get out to the yard. He lurks up there as if to say “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” (he finds this amusing) and I either have to brush the web aside or climb the woodpile to get by. I’ve explained to Balrog that building his web elsewhere, like, I don’t know, two feet to the left, would be good. But I’m not going to argue with him. One day I came out and there was a fly struggling in Balrog’s web. I actually waited for him to come down, wrap it up and haul it off before I cleared the way. Didn’t want him to miss out on a meal or anything.

By the mudroom there’s a web over 2 1/2 feet in diameter. I call it Shelob’s Lair. Yeah whatever just…back away slowly. Fumble for the Phial of Galadriel and hope for the best.

Deer FlyThe northwoods in summer is home to the ubiquitous deer fly. In case you’ve never encountered one of these assholes, here’s a description. (Tell me this wasn’t written by a New Englander. Hah!) Deer flies have been clocked keeping up with speeding trains (I’m not kidding), so you won’t get far. But I digress. As I was sitting on the porch one day, a deer fly hit the big web above the rosemary plant, struggled there, and damned if I didn’t cheer that spider on. “Hey, Death Eater! Breakfast! Come and get it, Buddy!”

I was a disturbed child.

Alas, the orb weavers have a short stint, here. Winter is coming and soon all that will be left of their empire are frozen cobwebs in the porch rafters. In honor of this venerable creature, there is a character in my novel Outpost called, simply, Spider. She’s a wisewoman revered by the warriors of her immortal race. Early on, Spider appears to a seer named Arcmael and gives him some cryptic advice. Later, she casts a powerful spell on his behalf–but it’s not what it seems. This causes Arcmael to abandon everything he knows to the point of nearly bringing on the imminent annihilation of the world.

Moral of the story: Never disregard the advice of a spider.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

© F.T. McKinstry 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Cats Will Stalk Anything

Bear

It’s spring here in northern New England. The grass is green, the buds on the trees are finally coming out, daffodils are blooming and all the critters are out of hibernation.

This morning I was sitting on the porch writing in a notebook (with a pen–yeah, people still do that) and I had a visitor. I knew it was something wild when my cats freaked out, stood to attention and/or ran growling inside. And here comes a young bear, clambering through the trees to check out the bird feeders.

Oona and BearSo my cat Oona (a.k.a. Yoga Crasher), what does she do? She takes it upon herself to creep up to the poor little guy and scare it up a tree.

I had a brief discussion with Oona about mother bears and the prudence of leaving baby bears alone and she, well, ignored me, not that this surprised anybody.

WTF

 
 
 
 

Cats. You have to give them points for nerve.

Hemlock

© F.T. McKinstry 2016. All Rights Reserved.

In Praise of Long Winters

Morning in the North Country

All right, it’s a controversial title. Here in northern New England, praising this endless, toothy winter is risking a scenario involving torches and pitchforks. However, I’m going to play the eccentric author card, so hear me out.

I’m an avid gardener and spring in this climate is a special thing. By spring I mean May or even June, as anything before that is either winter or this soppy, icy, muddy, drab phenomenon we call April. Enter the greenhouse. This adds a month or two onto the growing season, allows me to grow things that simply won’t thrive in the ground up here (like peppers, what is it with peppers?) and provides me with hope during the aforementioned month of April.

March Greenhouse

March 7, 2015

Most years, my greenhouse doesn’t look much different than this, come April, and I have to dig a trench in the snow to get to it. But once I tidy things up, plant all my little seeds and rig up the heat lamps it becomes the center of my universe.

I’m writing a new fantasy novel called Outpost (no amusing metaphor intended). I just passed 100,000 words and am rapidly closing in on the last few chapters. It’s all gathering and racing around in my mind to its beautiful, poignant conclusion. No problem staying dedicated to this when — ok, I’ll weigh in now — it only recently got above freezing for the last forty-eight days or something absurd like that, the temperatures in February were fifteen degrees below average and all it does it snow; yes and as a point of interest March tends to be the snowiest month. But I’m shooing off the winter whiners because right now it’s providing me with a great big pillow fortress to hide in while I finish and polish up Outpost so I can send it off to my editor.

Because when my seedlings emerge, the perennials wake up from the cold ground and it gets warm enough for me to sit outside like a pagan sun worshiper? You can do the math.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Wintry Critters

Ermine, by F.T. McKinstry

Ermine (Mustela erminea)


Season’s Greetings, Everyone!

One of the things I love most about this time of year is the wildlife in the woods. Like any proper New Englander, I respect winter and don’t fool around when it comes to preparing for it. But animals know what they’re doing. On dastardly cold nights or during a snowstorm I look out into the dark and wonder how all the clever creatures stay warm — assuming they aren’t hibernating (wouldn’t that be nice). But the next morning they’re all out there flying and padding around the forest, cheery as you please. It puts things in perspective.

Chickadee, by F.T. McKinstry

Chickadee

A while back one winter I was out for a walk and saw a short-tailed weasel (or stoat) moving around in the snow near the base of a tree. It wore its winter fur, pure white with a black tip on its tail. In this phase it’s called an ermine; in summer the stoat is brown with a white belly. I was amazed how small it was, about the size of a red squirrel or smaller. And it moved fast. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Naturally I was inspired to capture the wee beastie in a painting, to immortalize its serendipitous appearance. If you’d like to see more paintings of critters, check out my gallery Wild Things on Fine Art America.

Art Prints

© F.T. McKinstry 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Winged Mojo

Chickadee, by F.T. McKinstry
I admit it, I love winter. In the northwoods of New England where I live, I get plenty of it. However, by the time spring comes—months after most everyone else is celebrating the season—the romance is gone and I’d do anything for a warm sunny day and something green. I settle for my houseplants. I tinker with and fret over cuttings I rooted the summer before and kept alive all winter. Precious things.

The woods feed my heart in every season. Nature doesn’t whine. It accepts, it breathes, it moves on. Change and transformation are inherent. Nature heals itself. Nowhere is this power more inspiring than in the ubiquitous chickadee. These little birds fear nothing; no bitter cold, howling winds, ice storms in April, not even my prowling cats daunt them.

Chickadees have mojo.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2013. All Rights Reserved.